There is one word that, quite deliberately, is never uttered by anyone on stage during the National Theatre of Scotland’s Let The Right One In—vampire. The much-older-than-she-looks young girl Eli may burn in direct sunlight and bleed profusely if she enters a room uninvited; she may need to drink human blood in order to survive, but she’s “not that”. When our nominal hero—lonely, bullied 12 year old Oskar—asks what the difference is between her and “that” unspoken noun, she insists its because she chooses not to be “that”. Just as, you might say, John Ajvide Lindqvist refused to conform to the clichés of vampires when writing his novel and the screenplay for the 2008 Swedish film adaptation.
The danger of such an approach, of course, is becoming “that” thing most mocked by the genre’s fans; sanitized horror “for people who don’t actually like horror”. Both novel and film managed to avoid this; thankfully, so does Jack Thorne’s new stage adaptation for NTS—and not simply because it effectively opens with a remarkably realistic spurt of jugular blood. Christine Jones’ set—a wintry scene consisting of some forty denuded trees, a lonesome street lamp and the forlorn skeleton of an outdoor climbing frame—suggests an unsettling fairytale world in which the everyday world of home, school and corner sweetshop (represented by props pulled on and off the stage by the cast) only partly intrude.
At the heart of this story are relationships; most obviously between the unworldly Eli and lonely, bullied Oskar, but also between Eli and Hakan, who their neighbours assume to be her father. While Rebecca Benson and stage newcomer Martin Quinn offer remarkably physical performances as Eli and Oskar, the tragic heart of Let The Right One In rests on Ewan Stewart’s restrained performance as Eli’s human guardian and protector. It is by no means an obviously sympathetic role, not least because Hakan clearly fears Oskar becoming his replacement, but Stewart manages to make us feel for a man who will do the most terrible things in the name of his (unreciprocated) love for Eli.
Given that this production is the work of the NTS’s big guns—director John Tiffany, for example, will be forever linked with its early global hit Black Watch—it’s perhaps surprising that Dundee Rep is hosting the only scheduled run of Let The Right One In. Hopefully, like Eli herself, this production will travel the world a bit further in the years to come.